Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cult Classics Revisited: NIGHTMARE WEEKEND (1986)

(US/UK/France - 1986)

Directed by H. Sala (Henri Sala). Written by Georges Faget-Benard and Robert Seidman. Cast: Debbie Laster, Dale Midkiff, Debra Hunter, Robert Burke, Lori Lewis, Preston Maybank, Wellington Meffert, Kim Dossin, Andrea Thompson, Kimberley Stahl, Bruce Morton, Karen Mayo, Nick James, Dean Gates, Marc Gottlieb. (Unrated, 86 mins)

PIECES. TROLL 2. MIAMI CONNECTION. THE ROOM. GETEVEN. There are bad movies and then there are bad movies that take the art of bad movies to another level of cinematic nirvana. Films made with sincerity but so misguided and thoroughly bizarre that they simply must be seen to be disbelieved. You can add 1986's NIGHTMARE WEEKEND to that by-no-means comprehensive list. Just out on Blu-ray (Blu-ray!) from the folks at Vinegar Syndrome, the insane NIGHTMARE WEEKEND is poised to break out as the next great Bad Movie sensation. A US-British-French co-production starring American actors and shot in Ocala, FL in 1984 by a French crew headed by a director who didn't speak English, couldn't communicate with his cast, and was primarily known for his work in French hardcore porn (helming such classics as S COMME SPERME and CLUB PORNO POUR CHATTES ENRAGEES), NIGHTMARE WEEKEND is so deliriously bonkers that it feels like a lost Jess Franco film, only somehow less coherent.

In the '80s, many European exploitation directors (Lucio Fulci with THE NEW YORK RIPPER, Enzo G. Castellari with 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, Umberto Lenzi with EATEN ALIVE and CANNIBAL FEROX, and Romano Scavolini with NIGHTMARE all come to mind) would shoot in America, particularly NYC and usually without permits, and would deftly capture its mood and aura in an almost verite way, in ways that sanitized and secured Hollywood productions couldn't. Not so with Henri Sala, barely hiding behind the name "H. Sala." Whether it's his living in a porn bubble or his lack of fluency in English, his "America" of NIGHTMARE WEEKEND seems to work from a list of vague caricatures of 1980s America: Big hair? Check. Computers? Check. Sony Walkman? Check. Aerobics? Check. It demonstrates the kind of cultural tone deafness that runs rampant throughout PIECES (Kung-fu professor? Retired tennis pro-turned-cop going undercover as a tennis pro? Lead detective letting Cosby-sweater-wearing, Horshack-looking campus babe magnet take over the murder investigation?) and it's almost as funny. The communication breakdown between all involved parties is apparent in nearly every frame. NIGHTMARE WEEKEND seems like the pieces of at least three movies stitched together at random. Though it was shot with live sound, the audio was tossed for some reason, leading to the American actors--including three young up-and-comers and one Brit who would go onto varying levels of success in years to come--all being dubbed over by other voice actors, giving it a distinctly foreign vibe that only adds to its ludicrous charms. According to cast member and American co-producer Marc Gottlieb, who gave up acting after this movie and became a Wall Street lawyer, the French script by Georges Faget-Benard was rewritten multiple times, both by a credited Robert Seidman (a co-writer on 1984's ALPHABET CITY) and by an uncredited Gottlieb. No one had any idea what was going on, and it's obvious when you see the finished product. When the action cuts three times between one set of characters and two others in a sex scene, and the two actors in the sex scene go from 1) naked and fucking to 2) clothed and talking to 3) naked and fucking again, it's almost offensive that someone in the closing credits is actually credited with "continuity." You had one job, Christine Rondwasser.

The plot--and I use the term loosely--focuses on three college girls on a weekend getaway at a mansion where they're the unwitting subjects of a scientific experiment. A behavior-based computer program called "APACHE" has been developed by the respected Edward Brake (Wellington Meffert) but has been hijacked for nefarious purposes by his bitch-on-wheels assistant Julie Clingstone (Debbie Laster). Clingstone has sad-sack hunk Ken (Dale Midkiff, a few years away from the NBC miniseries ELVIS & ME and the blockbuster hit PET SEMATARY)--who's still grieving over the death of his best buddy Bob (Preston Maybank) in another botched Clingstone experiment--under her thumb but she also has to contend with his attraction to Brake's daughter Jessica (Debra Hunter). Jessica spends a lot of time messing around with the APACHE program on a computer she calls "George" (played by a Coleco Adam), which has a sentient hand-puppet attachment that keeps demanding "More data please!" Meanwhile, there's constant cutaways to a local bar/arcade called Stag, where badass stud Dave (future ROBOCOP and DUST DEVIL Robert John Burke, currently guest starring on a network or cable TV show near you) has sex with a woman (Karen Mayo) on a pinball machine, an idiot named Tony (Bruce Morton) dances around to the music on his Walkman, and the alcoholic Brake limo driver is given "special sandwiches" by the bartender, a stealth way to disguise his drinking by putting a mini-bar bottle in between two slices of bread. Eventually, all of these parties end up at the Brake estate, where various hook-ups take place (even the Walkman guy gets laid!) and Clingstone unleashes the full power of APACHE, which materializes in the form of small silver balls that force themselves down the mouth of their victim and turn them into zombies.

"More data, please!"
A hodgepodge of nonsensical plot (watch Jessica and "George" control Clingstone's car via computer, and Clingstone's utterly blase non-reaction to her car driving itself!), endless filler (why is Sala so concerned with what's going on that bar? Why is the limo driver hiding tiny bottles of liquor between two slices of bread?), terrible dubbing, and even worse puppetry, NIGHTMARE WEEKEND is a film so fucked-up that cocaine should've gotten at least a co-producer credit. Sala made one more porno in France before calling it a career and hasn't been heard from since.  Dead? Alive? Who knows?  With the exception of four people, everyone else in the cast vanished into bad movie witness protection: Midkiff and Burke went on to busy careers; Mayo became better known as Karen Mayo-Chandler when she appeared in a few scattered B-movies like STRIPPED TO KILL II: LIVE GIRLS and 976-EVIL II and was a girlfriend of Jack Nicholson's in the late '80s (she died from breast cancer in 2006 at just 48); and one of the three college girls is played by Andrea Thompson, who would go on to stints on FALCON CREST, BABYLON 5, JAG, 24, and HEROES, but is best known for her role as Det. Jill Kirkendall for five seasons midway through NYPD BLUE's run. How could guys named "Wellington Meffert" and "Preston Maybank" not make it?  It's safe to say that aside from the Ocala party scene and cast members hooking up after hours (Gottlieb even says the best thing to result for him from the film is that his daughter was conceived during the making of it), none of them have fond memories of NIGHTMARE WEEKEND as a movie--none take part in the Blu-ray special features, though Gottlieb does mention Midkiff having an on-set meltdown upon realizing he might not be finished with the film in time to move on to a more promising project that he had lined up immediately following (considering the time frame, it was probably the Roger Corman-released STREETWALKIN'). Watching the film, one can hardly blame Midkiff's hysterical reaction to such news. Yes, NIGHTMARE WEEKEND is...well, words can hardly do it justice. It's much more than the overwrought theme song's declaration of "You are a nightmare, a nightmare fantasy!" Simply put, if you haven't seen it, you must. And like me, you'll wonder where it's been all your life.

No comments:

Post a Comment